THE WOMEN'S DECAMERON by Julia Voznesenskaya


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After they've all given birth, ten Leningrad women swap stories among themselves in the maternity ward, ten quarantined days of what they agree to structure as a Boccaccio-like Decameron. The stories, categorically, are of First Love, Seduced and Abandoned, Sex in Farcical Situations, Bitches, Infidelity and Jealousy, Rapists and Their Victims, Money, Revenge. Noble Deeds, and, finally, Happiness. The last drips with irony. The portrait that emerges of the lives of Russian women (and there's a representative on the ward of nearly every societal stripe: a bureaucrat. an airline-hostess/prostitute, a shipyard worker, even a dissident) is one of continual harassment (and worse) at the hands of weak yet bullying men; of amorous lives conducted under the disadvantage of too-close quarters; of governmental restrictions providing both foil and perverse opportunities. In the Rapists section, one of the women recounts a ghastly story about her treatment as an up-and-coming pubescent figure-skating star: after it, you may never be able to watch the Olympics in quite the same way. Voznesenskaya is essentially content, within her framework, to provide serial monologues--so the book lacks drama or even true interchange. Yet it does have the attractions of documentary and of voice: the voices of double-repression plus the sort of admirably joyful disillusion that comes across as the lot of Soviet women.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1986
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown